Chris Christie Lambastes Anti-Muslim Bigots In The GOP
The Philadelphia Inquirer writes today about a speech that New Jersey Governor Chris Christe gave two weeks ago when he hosted a Ramadan dinner at the Governor’s Mansion
“In many publications around this country I’m now called an Islamist,” Christie told the crowd of New Jersey Muslims. “Ya know, listen, I’ve been called worse things — usually on the boardwalk on Seaside Heights. Y’all saw my reaction to that.”
It is an extraordinary video, in part because you don’t often hear Republicans calling out elements of their own party for being “bigots” against Muslims. The issue of Islamic extremism is wrought with potential political pitfalls, and yet here is a guy on the short-list for GOP vice-presidential nominees who is directly confronting the topic in the backyard of his own house.
“I’ll tell you that there is a gaze of intolerance that is going around our country that is disturbing to me,” Christie said. “This is something that as a political leader you can think you understand as an objective observer, but you don’t really understand until you become part of the story.”
He said that two of his actions have “drawn the ire” of some conservatives around the country. The first was the nomination of a Sohail Mohammed, a Muslim attorney, as a superior court judge. Conservative web sites have criticized the appointment, saying Mohammed has defended terrorists and will employ shariah law. But Christie called Mohammed a friend and said that those who create hysteria about his appointment because are “bigots.”
Christie went on to ask the Muslims in attendance to recommend members of their community for appointments, including judgeships.
Christie also noted that he has been called out for his relationship with Imam Mohammad Qatanani, who is often described online as a “Hamas-linked cleric.”
“The fact of the matter is that in all my interactions over the years with the imam, he has attempted to be a force for good in his community, in our state, with law enforcement, with those of us who have gotten to know and work with us over the years,” said Christie, who worked with the Muslim community as a U.S. Attorney in the aftermath of Sept. 11. “So I hope what you see is a consistent strain of conduct. I will judge people based on their relationships with me and how they conduct themselves.”
There was a video that accompanied the article originally, but it is presently unavailable on YouTube.
Christie has indeed come under fire from the fanatical anti-Muslim wing of the right for what they claim are his too cozy relationships with Muslims. It started, as Christie notes in the speech when he appointed a prominent Muslim-American attorney whom he had much contact with while he was U.S. Attorney for New Jersey in the wake of the 9/11 attacks to a state judgeship. When that happened, a host of conservative bloggers, led by people such as Pamela Gellar, began attacking Christie and accusing him of being soft on terrorism. Several months later, after Sohail Mohammed had been confirmed to the bench, Christie let loose with one of his classic rants in which he said he was tired of dealing with anti-Muslim crazies in his party, and urged Republican to stop pandering to extremists when it came to issues affecting Muslim-Americans. You can imagine what the response to those comments were from the Islamophobic wing of conservatism.
So far there doesn’t seem to be a single conservative blogger writing about Christie’s remarks, but it has caught the attention of a few people on the left. Amy Sullivan, for example, contrasts Christie’s position with that of his party’s presumptive nominee:
I think [Christie’s] willingness to call out Islamophobes would be a great reason to make him a running-mate. However, I am not Mitt Romney, who held a private meeting with a group of “the crazies” just last week, according to Politico. Participants included James Dobson and Gary Bauer, who wrote a letter to John Boehner defending Michele Bachmann’s Muslim witch hunt and praised her “good judgment, undeniable courage, and great patriotism” for “bravely demanding answers to matters essential to the safety of the American people and our Armed Forces.”
Also included in the Romney meeting was retired Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, the newly-hired vice president of the Family Research Council and a leader of the anti-Muslim crowd. Boykin, who thinks there should be no mosques allowed in the U.S. and who argues that Muslims are not entitled to First Amendment rights, helped develop a 2010 report assessing the Sharia “threat.” According to Boykin’s report, the Muslim Brotherhood “has succeeded in penetrating our educational, legal and political systems, as well as top levels of government, intelligence, the media, and U.S. military, virtually paralyzing our ability to respond effectively.”
It’s possible that Romney met with this group to tell Boykin and others to cut out their anti-Muslim activities, or to at least keep it down. We don’t know for sure, because the meeting was private. We do know, however, that when asked the next day about Bachmann’s efforts to root out Muslim Brotherhood sympathizers in the federal government—a campaign that even John Boehner and John McCain have strongly denounced—Romney took a pass.
The contrast between Christie and Romney, indeed between Christie and pretty much any other nationally known Republican, on this issue is really quite striking. To some extent, of course, it’s because even if Romney and other national Republican leaders agreed with Christie, and I’d bet you that many of them do, they don’t want to say anything for fear of alienating the rapid wing of the party and providing fuel for the Michele Bachmann’s and Allan West’s of the world to whip up the base. You can see that in the fact that, so far, only John McCain and John Boehner have publicly spoken out against Bachmann’s McCarthyist crusade against Huma Abedin. Christie, on the other hand, is clearly one of those people who don’t care what the wacko wing of the party thinks and isn’t afraid to speak out in a manner that would annoy them. I’m pretty sure, or example, that Christie really didn’t care that he got Pamela Gellar upset for appointing a Muslim-American to the bench, and I doubt he cares about whatever reaction make come from her ilk over the fact that he, rightly, called them bigots.
Speaking what you believe to be the truth without regard to the possibility that it will offend the rabble rousers is not something you often see from politicians of any stripe. Usually, they speak in bland words that are poll-tested and they are careful not to offend the base no matter how insane their opinions might be. Whatever else one thinks of Christie, it’s refreshing to see this kind of bluntness and it’s nice to see someone actually call a religious bigot out for what they are. I hope he brings that same kind of candor to the RNC Keynote Address in two and a half weeks.